Is sex in later life good for your health? It depends

WASHINGTON — Conventional wisdom about the health effects of sex in later life has been that it’s an unalloyed good, equally so for men and women. But a new study shows that may not be the case.

A study from Michigan State University founds that, while pleasurable sex is related to lower levels of high blood pressure in older women, frequent and enjoyable sex is tied to more heart attacks among older men.

“Strikingly, we find that having sex once a week or more puts older men at a risk for experiencing cardiovascular events that is almost two times greater than older men who are sexually inactive,” said Michigan State professor Hui Liu, a co-author of the study.

“Moreover, older men who found sex with their partner extremely pleasurable or satisfying had higher risk of cardiovascular events than men who did not feel so.”

Liu hypothesizes from the data that older men are frailer and suffer more sexual problems than older women, and create more stress on their systems in order to compensate. She adds that the use of medication that improves sexual function may put a further stress on men’s hearts.

Women, on the other hand, have a lower risk of cardiovascular problems if they have frequent, good sex.

The study’s findings “may be more relevant to women than to men,” Liu said, “because men in all relationships, regardless of quality, are more likely to receive support from their partner than are women.”

The study looked at data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project on 2,204 people whose ages ranged between 57 and 85 when the first batch of numbers was gathered in 2005-2006, then again five years later.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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